24 July 2017

The ongoing Star Trek survey

As was the case with the Twilight Zone and Monty Python, I did not much watch Star Trek as I was growing up, but I was aware of it mostly through the enthusiasm of certain schoolmates.  Between what I was told, and the occasional excerpt which I did see (did I see the entire episode with the Horta? I am not certain that I did), I knew the characters, was inclined (by virtue of resonant enthusiasm) to feel benevolently about them, but – I wasn’t emotionally invested in the show.

I was not a Fan.  Nor do I think it really possible at this point to determine whether the Snobbery Divide came from my side (which I doubt, for that time) or from the genuine Fans, of whose club I could not be an initiate.

It is possible that I watched the first Star Trek movie, but it made no impression greater than as a kind of 2001 Lite.  I do not remember anything in particular about it, now.

I certainly watched The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock on the big screen, back at the time of their release, and I liked them very much, right off.

Since then, the two or three times when I watched an episode from the show (generally on a b&w small screen) I was mostly aware of quarrels to pick.  My fondness for the recent movies notwithstanding, I had become something of a Star Trek skeptic.  (This is mere reportage, not defense.)

My roommate in Buffalo was a fan of the new show (the Next Generation).  Worth pointing out for the record that, not while I was a student, nor anytime since, have I ever been a regular viewer of any TV show as it has initially rolled out.  I knew students who were as diligent as I and more, but who were dedicatees of one show or another (The Simpsons were a regular ritual at the house in Rochester, which was large enough that I could pursue my own activities undisturbed in another room).  So I did not join Tim in his devotion to the new Star Trek, but I did indeed enjoy the occasional episode (or part thereof) which we watched together.

This is not Star Trek Confessions;  I am only marshalling all the pertinent facts.

(Well, all right, I’ll skip ahead a bit.)

At last (50 years after their original airdate) I am watching my way through the first season of Star Trek.  And, even though I have enjoyed the occasional quibble, after the eighth or ninth episode, I found myself converted into fandom.  I am even verging upon . . . bingewatching.  But only when I have downed tools for composing.

There are spoilers hereon out.  Because, like myself, maybe there are some for whom the viewing is fresh, and I have appreciated watching them without already knowing how they play out.

“Miri”:  I had watched this one on DVD not long ago.  Made an even better impression this second time.  In general, I may not be crazy about the occasional flirtsipoo Captain-&-Yeoman subplot, but I suppose that is an artifact from the era.

“Dagger of the Mind”:  Especially strong, I think, and the strength is underpinned by guest James Gregory.  The “mind meld” is an effective plot device here.

“The Corbonite Maneuver”:  I had actually seen this once on a time, but I had forgotten just how it plays out (apart from a suspicion that the alien as first viewed was, well, obviously a dummy, even by production values of the time).  Very good;  short of great, perhaps, because I am doubtful of the artistic satisfaction of the “Oh, I was only pulling your chain” conclusion.

“The Menagerie”:  Very strange to say that I had never seen this before, even though I remember repeatedly in the past seeing the invalid Capt Pike on a TV screen.  Great story, if arguably flawed (if Commodore Mendez is an illusion courtesy of the Talosians, why does the illusion threaten to shut Spock up?)

“The Conscience of the King”:  I almost want to upbraid a script whose title comes from Hamlet, but which opens with a scene from Macbeth.  Could the perp really have set a phaser to overload, secret it in Kirk’s cabin, and be gone, all in time for it to be a threat to the Captain?  Lucky thing there was that dumbwaiter, too.  In spite of all these (and the show’s apparent ongoing mission to have Kirk be “Mister Lovey-Dovey,” and the villain’s lost mind at the end) I’d call it a success.

“Balance of Terror”:  Possibly the first ‘perfect script’ I have come to watch.  I had only the night before re-watched The Search for Spock, so imagine my pleasure upon seeing Mark Lenard playing the Romulan commander.

“Shore Leave”:  Overall enjoyable, but I think it’s a half-hour show which was padded out to the full hour.

“The Galileo Seven”:  The hermetic separation of logic and feeling in the character of Spock, while inherently interesting and a key driver of so many plot elements, is of itself essentially problematic.  Spock is in danger of being something of a wooden caricature in this one (a pity, as it is his first command);  and I am not sure that Kirk is able to drag his heels past the deadline (when Commissioner Farris had been so ready to remind him, with annoying frequency, how little time he had) in order to save his crewmembers.  Best Scottie/Spock relationship building to date.

“The Squire of Gothos”:  Of course, I love the Scarlatti.  As with “Charlie X,” the deus ex machine ending is an amateurish disappointment.  One completely understands how William Campbell found it a thoroughly fun role to create.

This weekend, I also revisited the two abovementioned movies.  In The Wrath of Khan, I may never understand how it was that Chekov survived having that vile creature in his head.

And while my enjoyment of both Khan and The Search is confirmed, I found myself annoyed with Horner’s music in both soundtracks, which in more than one cue feels unseemly close to a John Williams pastiche.

Horner’s music did not bother me (i.e., I did not feel otherwise than that it ‘belonged’) when I first watched the two movies, which would have been while I was at Wooster.  The source of my recent problem, as it were, is that I am finally watching the series itself.  The show’s atmosphere is very well enhanced by Alexander Courage’s score;  in contrast, Horner serves up what strikes me as boilerplate space-swashbuckling music.

The discussion is apt to veer towards ethics when the subject is Horner’s work, but neither are we in the position to disentangle the composer’s role and choices, from the demands of the production (“Give us something just like Star Wars...”)  There is a well-loved tune in Star Wars (itself related interestingly to a Leitmotiv from The Ring) which Horner manages to echo in The Wrath of Khan, and, why yes, he brings it back at a key dramatic moment in The Search for Spock.

Mind you, while the springboard here has been my expression a degree of disappointment at the artistic effect of the character of Horner’s score, I am not (presently) concerned with the ethics angle.  The broader question of reference/appropriation has been uppermost in my mind as I have continued work on White Nights—though to be sure, all the material is my own—as I find use in these later scenes for material already exposed.

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